Solar Power - The Sustainable Solution for Marine Propulsion
Today, the merchant marine industry is overburdened by the innumerable new regulations to control SOxes, NOxes, COxes, particulate matter emissions, etc. The ship staff is struggling to understand and to ensure compliance. The ship designers and naval architects are also trying to make the necessary design changes to accommodate the new machinery, new tanks, etc. Identical is the plight of the machinery manufacturers. It is time to think out of the box and look for a different solution. Growing environmental concerns and depleting fossil fuels are forcing us to look at the possibility of using non-conventional, renewable energy sources for power generation onboard ships with a certain degree of success. Not much thought has been given to the possibility of using these energy sources for main propulsion to replace fossil fuel usage. Is it really possible to generate sufficient power from the sun to propel ships and replace diesel engines? It is possible to replace diesel engines as prime movers for the main propulsion of the ship. We can have electric propulsion with power drawn from the sun’s energy through photovoltaic cells. The area available on the deck and the shipside above the waterline can be utilized to generate power from solar energy. With the presently available technology and conversion efficiency, with solar cells sprayed on the exposed areas of the ships, the power generated can be as high as 40% of MCR of the present-day Diesel Engines achieving 60-70% of the maximum speed. Fuel constitutes about 50% of the operational cost of a ship. Doing away with diesel engines and the associated fuel storage systems would result in much more economical running of ships than it is today with fossil fuels. We also save on the deadweight and volumetric cargo space giving us more cargo-carrying capacity. Also there is a substantial saving on manning costs. In December 2008, a new solar power system, capable of generating 40 kW, made its debut on an NYK car-carrier Auriga Leader. In 2010, Turanor PlanetSolar, a 30 m long and 15 m wide catamaran was equipped with 38,000 photovoltaic cells housed in 825 modules with four electric-motors and a wave-piercing design providing enough power to propel two drive shafts of the catamaran at about 7 knots. A 13-ton lithium battery stores enough electricity for up to 3 days without direct sunlight. Until now, solar power systems have been limited to usage for the crews’ onboard living areas, but very soon, we will witness solar power competing and eventually winning over traditional fossil fuel propulsion systems. Undoubtedly, Solar power is the marine fuel of the future giving a final answer to earth's limited fossil fuel supply, growing environmental concerns, and legislations.